Sunday, January 22, 2012

Looking for Newbery - The Picks

We have had the good fortune to sit down a couple of times during the running of our Looking for Newbery series this year and there were some definite themes to our conversations.

The first, as we debated whether or not to go ahead and run the Looking for Newbery series, was that we think people like our Newbery posts. We're not big number watchers here at Literate Lives; we blog because we enjoy reading and writing about good kids' books, but it is clear that our readership goes up every year while we "look for Newbery." We take that to mean that people must like what we are doing during this time of year, and even with the onslaught of blogs dedicated to Newbery predictions, readers are still finding us, so we decided to continue this year.

The second theme we noticed was that we felt our own personal reading was down this year. Neither of us felt we had read nearly the number of books as in years past, and neither of us felt we had read the winner. Last year we believed that one of us had at least read the winner, we just weren't sure what it was. This year we don't have a feel for the winner AND we feel like we probably haven't read it anyway! Maybe we're all in for another Moon Over Manifest surprise, but there's no telling what the committee will do. All of that being said, we've decided to list the books that we really liked this year. If they win we look like geniuses; if they don't, we still look pretty good because we know these are good books that kids like, and isn't that what it really all about?

Bill's Picks:

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt: I liked it from the start when I read the ARC and I like it just as much now. Quality characters and writing everything you expect from this author and I think it's about time he won a gold medal.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy: I'm still on the read aloud band wagon for this one. If anyone has tried it I'd love to hear about it. Why not celebrate Charles Dickens' 200th birthday with this fun tale.

With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo: I definitely like this one for a future Grand Discussion. It will provide lots of great discussion material. The family dynamics are wonderful and I really like the strong parental units!

Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richardson Jacobson: I know it was a long time ago, but this one sticks with you after you read it. I hope it sticks with the judges too.

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney: I love historical fiction and this one is about a topic that I was totally unaware of until now. I love how the three perspectives weave together.

Karen's favorites this year:

As Bill said, I don't have a good feel for what will win the Newbery this year, but I have had a blast this past month reading frantically to catch up on all the books I felt I had missed in 2011.  I plan on doing a much better job with my reading this year.

Anyway, with no further ado, here are my top 5 (okay, 8!!)  favorites of the year:

Okay For Now - I've listened to the criticisms of this book, but there is something about Doug that just touches my heart.  And the supporting cast including Lil, Mrs. Windemere, and his mom, are so well done and crucial to the plot.  I'm reading this book aloud to one of my language arts classes, and they are as involved with Doug's life as I am.

Inside Out and Back Again - I just reread this one on Friday.  That reread made me once again appreciate how beautiful the language in this story was.  The fact that this story was based on the author's (Thanhha Lai) own life experience as her family fled from Vietnam, made it all the more poignant.  And I'm a sucker for a great novel in verse.

Wonderstruck - I know it probably doesn't even qualify for the Newbery award, but it was absolutely one of my favorite books of the year.  Selznick was a master at illustrating one story, telling another story with words, and then beautifully meshing the two.  Pure genius!!

Ghetto Cowboy - I read this book after hearing about it on twitter, and it has stayed with me ever since.  The concept of a horse stable in the ghetto of Philadelphia was not only intriguing, but also based on true events.  Loved the journey of this main character, and really liked how his dad was trying to make a difference within his own community.

Hound Dog True - Loved this female character, Mattie, and I really, really loved Uncle Potluck.  Such a small story, packed with amazing emotion.  I had many personal connections to this story which added to its power for me.

Cheshire Cheese Cat - Another book that recently came to my attention and I loved it.  I'm not usually a fan of stories with animals as main characters, but I'd most definitely make an exception for this one.  Who knew there could be such great suspense with cheese, mice, cats, a misplaced bird, and Charles Dickens in a pub?!!  Great language abounds in this story, and as an adult, it was fun to know the "inside jokes" in reference to Charles Dickens.

Bigger Than a Breadbox - This story is a great look at how divorce and separation can affect children.  It covers several other themes as well: trying to fit in to a new place and wishing for things you want doesn't always bring you happiness.  I read this aloud to both of my language arts classes and we capped our experience off with a Skype visit with Laurel Snyder.  It was an incredibly thought-provoking read.

Icefall - This was my final read in trying to get to all the best books on mock Newbery lists, and it was such an amazing read.  There was one section of the book where I found myself gasping for air because of the building tension in the action.  At another point, I was sobbing.  Great characters, great setting, Viking folklore, storytelling within a story, and cliffhangers galore.  This one would be slightly old for my 5th graders, but I still loved it!!!!!

So, that wraps it up for this year.  We hope something we've mentioned gets some love on Monday.  But, as Bill said, no matter what, we have both enjoyed some great books this year, and we've had the great opportunity to share them with students as well.


  1. Great picks! I'm so happy to see Bigger Than a Bread Box and Hound Dog True on the final list.

  2. I loved hearing your list, and I haven't read them all so will put them on the TBR list. I still remember Okay For Now so fondly, and love that there is a link with The Wednesday Wars. You are so right, no matter what, that it's all about getting good books into the lives of our students. Thanks!

  3. I am excited to meet with our Newbery Club tomorrow morning and learn about the winner. I totally agree with both of you it is about great books and students reading.

  4. I'll admit to having not read all the Newbery hopefuls. I wanted to, but life got in the way. Drat. I'll get to most of them, I promise. My favorite, favorite, favorite was Inside Out and Back Again. Lovely! Simply lovely! The verse was rich and powerful. I can't imagine the story being told any other way.

    I love that it is one of those special reads that transcends age. It is appropriate for middle grades - adult. I love that in a book. I haven't felt this way in a long time. Not since The Book Thief have I thought a book so relevant to so many.